With an intolerable yearning, Naropa went out in search of his master. He experienced extreme hunger and thirst and overexposure to the elements, but he did not allow any of these unbearable conditions to deter him in his search for Tilopa. The many unfavorable circumstances that he encountered have become known as the "Twelve Fearful Experiences of Naropa." Twelve times he encountered ferocious dogs, wild animals, poisonous snakes, terrifying women, and other adverse situations that hindered him on his path to meet his teacher and frightened him almost to death. Nevertheless, he would not turn back in his search for Tilopa. After each terrifying encounter he went forward, and each time he did this, he would hear an affirmation resounding from the sky that what he had just experienced was the manifestation of his guru.
After suffering the pain and hardships of passing through the "Twelve Fearful Experiences," Naropa found himself in a village. From out of the sky sounded the words, "Not far from this village is the master whom you seek. You must have faith and confidence in him." Filled with excitement, Naropa went to the outskirts of the village and asked everyone he saw if they knew a master called Tilopa. They all replied that they did not know a master called Tilopa, but there was a fisherman down by the river drying fish who was called by that name.
Naropa was surprised to hear that Tilopa was a fisherman but he immediately remembered that all his recent experiences had actually been manifestations of his guru, and he realized that if he had to meet his teacher in the form of a fisherman, it must be because of his impure mind. So without any doubt or hesitation, and with devotion and trust, he went down to the river to meet Tilopa. As he got closer, he could see Tilopa was transferring the consciousness of each fish to a pure realm with a snap of his fingers. Afterwards he would pick up each fish and bite off its head, discarding the head to one side, and placing the body to dry on the sand in preparation for taking it to market.
Naropa prostrated to Tilopa as a gesture of respect and asked to be accepted as his student. Tilopa scrutinized Naropa from head to toe three times and said, "No matter from what angle I look at you, you seem to be of a royal family. You look like royalty and speak like royalty, and yet you come here to be a student of a fisherman, one of a lowly caste. This is not at all proper."